(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Lechery” lends the reader insight into the gritty “urban underbelly” that Phillips encountered as she hitchhiked across the United States in the early 1970’s. Several works in Black Tickets fall into this genre of disturbing stories in which the cruel side of life is examined, where people are denied unconditional love and beauty.

Combining an acute ear and eye for the most sordid details with her creative imagination, Phillips wrote a fully believable and horrifying narrative. She employed the first-person voice to enable the reader to identify with the wretched narrator, thus instilling the fear that this grotesque could have been the reader under similar circumstances.

In this and in similar stories, Phillips has given a voice to the inarticulate. In this narrative, told by a fourteen-year-old prostitute who molests little boys, the narrator recounts how, two years before, she was purchased by two sexually perverse drug addicts for thirty dollars. The simple, powerful prose overflows with sensually shocking images of the narrator’s early life in the orphanage with her friend Natalie and of her current life as a peddler of pornography, a sexual toy for deranged adult drug addicts, and a seductress of virginal, preadolescent schoolboys. “I get them before they get pimples, I get them those first few times the eyes flutter and get strange,” the narrator tells the reader, without a hint of shame or embarrassment.

The narrator lacks any reason to feel guilt or shame because of her lifestyle. She opens with the following justification: “Though I have no money I must give myself what I need.” Because it is for her own survival that she lives as she does, one of her final comments, “I’m pure, driven snow,” is understandable, and even a relief to the reader, who has been pulled into her desperate world so quickly and has, by Phillips’s design, identified with the narrator so strongly.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, an unnamed fifteen-year-old girl who knows she was abandoned when she was fourteen months old, in December, 1960, begins her story by saying that although she has no money, she must give herself what she needs. In between being arrested and being homeless after running away from the state-operated Children’s Center, she survives by stealing food from the butcher shop and by enticing boys and young men, stimulating them with pornographic pictures and then feeling gratification through her power over their sexual release. She describes her “lovers”—one may be nervous, another may be mean, one blond, another dark. She offers whiskey to all of them. The pictures she shows them are of young girls, girls such as herself. She describes the acts she and the boys perform and says the boys sometimes get teary-eyed.

She recalls the ugliness of the dolls that she was given at the foster homes in which she was placed. Most of them had no clothes, and one had a hand missing. The girl identifies with these maimed and ruined playthings. Life treats her the same as others had treated the dolls.

The memory of the dolls reminds her of when Uncle Wumpy, her sugar daddy and father figure, gave her a doll. Uncle Wumpy was called that because of his pocked face, rabbit ears, and soft gray flesh. She recalls an outing during which she and Uncle Wumpy won cowboy hats, a rubber six gun, and a stuffed leopard for their cohort, Kitty. Drunk and wild, they shot ducks at a carnival shooting gallery until Uncle Wumpy won her the three-foot bridal doll with a bird in its hair. With Uncle Wumpy’s lighter, she burned the bird and later buried it in a hole in a place she would never forget.

That memory leads her to remember that she first met Uncle Wumpy, who worked for the state road commission, while she worked at a luncheonette. She cleaned tables and was mistreated and degraded by the forty-year-old...

(The entire section is 787 words.)